Friends, our Gospel today is Jesus’ best-known parable: the story of the prodigal son.
In considering this narrative, we are dealing with an icon of the Father told by the one who is himself the Icon of the Father. Thus we have Jesus indirectly crafting a subtle self-portrait. The gathering embrace of the father in the story mirrors that of the heavenly Father, which in turn is represented in that of Jesus.
What happens when the father embraces his son and kisses him? The boy speaks: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.” Whenever characters in the Bible come close to the divine grace, they experience a heightened sense of their own unworthiness. This is the dynamic at work in the case of the prodigal son.
But his father ignores his carefully rehearsed speech, and, with an eagerness bordering on impatience, instructs his servants to prepare a celebration. Our participation in the flow of the divine life is, necessarily, a gift. It cannot, in principle, be earned or merited, but only accepted. We can only be embraced by it.